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Red panda




The red panda is a carnivoran native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern
China. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List because the wild population is
estimated at fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and continues to decline due to
habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression. Despite its
name, it is not closely related to the giant panda.
The red panda has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to
its shorter front legs; it is roughly the size of a domestic cat, though with a longer
body. It is arboreal and feeds mainly on bamboo, but also eats eggs, birds, and
insects. It is a solitary animal, mainly active from dusk to dawn, and is largely
sedentary during the day. It is also called the lesser panda, the red bear-cat, and the
red cat-bear.
The red panda is the only living member of the genus Ailurus and the family
Ailuridae. It has previously been placed in the raccoon and bear families, but the
results of phylogenetic analysis provide strong support for its taxonomic
classification in its own family, Ailuridae, which is part of the superfamily
Musteloidea, along with the weasel, raccoon and skunk families.


The red panda has long, soft, reddish-brown fur on the upper parts, blackish fur on
the lower parts, and a light face with tear markings and white badges similar to those
of a raccoon, but each individual can have distinctive markings. Its skull is roundish
with medium-sized upright ears, its nose is black, and its eyes are blackish. Its teeth
are robust. Its long, bushy tail with six alternating transverse ochre rings provide
balance and excellent camouflage in a habitat with moss- and lichen-covered trees.
The legs are black and short with thick fur on the soles of the paws. This fur serves as
thermal insulation on snow-covered or icy surfaces and conceals scent glands, which
are also present on the anus.
The head and body length of a red panda measures 50 to 64 cm, and its tail is 28 to 59
cm long. Males weigh 3.7 to 6.2 kg and females 3 to 6.0 kg.
The red panda is specialized as a bamboo feeder with strong, curved and sharp semiretractile claws standing inward for grasping narrow tree branches, leaves, and fruit.
Like the giant panda, it has a "false thumb", which is an extension of the wrist bone.
When descending a tree head-first, the red panda rotates its ankle to control its
descent, one of the few climbing species to do so.


The red panda is endemic to the temperate forests of the Himalayas, and ranges from
the foothills of western Nepal to China in the east. Its easternmost limit is the
Qinling Mountains of the Shaanxi Province in China. Its range includes southern
Tibet, Sikkim and Assam in India, Bhutan, the northern mountains of Burma, and in
south-western China, in the Hengduan Mountains of Sichuan and the Gongshan
Mountains in Yunnan. It may also live in south-west Tibet and northern Arunachal
Pradesh, but this has not been documented. Locations with the highest density of red
pandas include an area in the Himalayas that has been proposed as having been a
refuge for a variety of endemic species in the Pleistocene. The distribution range of
the red panda should be considered disjunct, rather than continuous. A disjunct
population inhabits the Meghalaya Plateau of north-eastern India.
The red panda lives between 2,200 and 4,800 m altitude, inhabiting areas of moderate
temperature between 10 and 25 °C with little annual change. It prefers mountainous
mixed deciduous and conifer forests, especially with old trees and dense understories
of bamboo.
During a survey in the 1970s, signs of red pandas were found in Nepal's Dhorpatan
Hunting Reserve. Their presence was confirmed in spring 2007 when four red pandas
were sighted at elevations ranging from 3,220 to 3,610 m. Its westernmost distribution
is in Rara National Park. In 2018, red pandas were sighted at elevations of 3,150–3,650
m in Nepal's Lamjung District.


The red panda is territorial; it is solitary except during mating season. It is generally
quiet except for some twittering, tweeting, and whistling communication sounds. It
has been reported to be both nocturnal and crepuscular, sleeping on tree branches or
in tree hollows during the day and increasing its activity in the late afternoon and
early evening hours. It sleeps stretched out on a branch with legs dangling when it is
hot, and curled up with its tail over the face when it is cold. It is very heat-sensitive,
with an optimal "well-being" temperature between 17 and 25 °C.
Shortly after waking, red pandas clean their fur somewhat like a cat would, licking
their front paws and then rubbing their backs, torsos, and sides. They also rub their
backs and bellies along the sides of trees or rocks. Then they patrol their territories,
marking with urine and a weak musk-smelling secretion from their anal glands. They
search for food running along the ground or through the trees. Red pandas may use
their forepaws alternately to bring food to their mouths or place food directly into
their mouths.
Predators of the red panda include the snow leopard, mustelids, and humans. If they
feel threatened or sense danger, they may try to escape by climbing a rock column or
tree. If they can no longer flee, they stand on their hind legs to make themselves
appear larger and use the sharp claws on their front paws to defend
themselves[citation needed]. A red panda became a visitor attraction in Japan for his
ability to stand upright for ten seconds at a time.


Red pandas are excellent climbers, and forage largely in trees. They eat mostly
bamboo, and may eat small mammals, birds, eggs, flowers, and berries. In captivity,
they were observed to eat birds, flowers, maple and mulberry leaves, and bark and
fruits of maple, beech, and mulberry.
Like the giant panda, they cannot digest cellulose, so they must consume a large
volume of bamboo to survive. Their diets consist of about two-thirds bamboo, but
they also eat mushrooms, roots, acorns, lichens, and grasses. Occasionally, they
supplement their diets with fish and insects. They do little more than eat and sleep
due to their low-calorie diets.
Bamboo shoots are more easily digested than leaves, exhibiting the highest
digestibility in summer and autumn, intermediate digestibility in the spring, and
lowest digestibility in the winter. These variations correlate with the nutrient
contents in the bamboo. Red pandas process bamboo poorly, especially the cellulose
and cell wall components. This implies microbial digestion plays only a minor role in
their digestive strategy. To survive on this poor-quality diet, they have to eat the
high-quality sections of the bamboo plant, such as the tender leaves and shoots, in
large quantities, over 1.5 kg of fresh leaves and 4 kg of fresh shoots daily. This food
passes through the digestive tract fairly rapidly so as to maximize daily nutrient
intake. Red pandas can taste artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, and are the only
nonprimates known to be able to do so.


Red pandas are able to reproduce at around 18 months of age, and are fully mature at
two to three years. Adults rarely interact in the wild except to mate. Both sexes may
mate with more than one partner during the mating season from mid-January to early
March.[26] A few days before birth, females begin to collect material, such as
brushwood, grass, and leaves; to build a nest, which is normally located in a hollow
tree or a rock crevice. After a gestation period of 112 to 158 days, the female gives
birth in mid-June to late July to one to four (usually 1–2) blind and deaf cubs
weighing 110 to 130 g each.
After birth, the mother cleans the cubs, and can then recognize each by their smell. At
first, she spends 60% to 90% of her time with the cubs. After the first week, the
mother starts spending more time outside the nest, returning every few hours to
nurse and groom the cubs. She moves the young frequently among several nests, all
of which she keeps clean. The cubs start to open their eyes at about 18 days of age. By
about 90 days, they achieve full adult fur and coloring, and begin to venture out of the
nest. They also start eating solid foods at this point, weaning at around six to eight
months of age. The cubs stay with their mother until the next litter is born in the
following summer. Males rarely help raise the young, and only if they live in pairs or
in small groups.
A red panda's lifespan ranges between eight and 10 years, but individuals have been
known to reach 15 years.
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